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Deaths From Diabetes Rapidly Increasing in the Developing World

The International Diabetes Federation says the number of people worldwide suffering from diabetes has skyrocketed from 30 million to 230 million in the past two decades. The private Brussels-based group says medical problems due to diabetes are killing millions of people, many of them in the third world.

The International Diabetes Federation says seven of the 10 countries with the highest number of diabetics are in the developing world. The group says the largest number is in China with 39 million people, followed by India with 30 million. It adds that in some Caribbean and Middle Eastern countries, the percentage of diabetics ranges from 12 to 20 percent.

Dr. Martin Silink is the president of the International Diabetes Federation. "About 70 percent of the diabetes burden is in the developing countries,” Silink said. “It is increasing at such a high rate in the developing countries that is it subverting the gains of economic development."

Diabetes is caused by high blood sugar levels that result from the body's inability to make insulin -- a hormone that helps the body's cells use glucose for energy. A lack of insulin can lead to serious complications, including kidney failure and blindness.

Although Silink says genetic predisposition contributes to the risk of getting diabetes, changes in lifestyles worldwide have led to an increase in the condition. These include a lack of physical exercise and high calorie foods that are causing people to become overweight, making them more likely to be affected.

Silink said, "The way we've gotten physical activity out of our schools, for instance. There are different choices in the foods we eat, but the choices are unhealthy choices."

The group says many people are dying from diabetes in the world's poorer countries because of a lack of health care. In Africa, for example, a diabetic in Mozambique who requires injections of insulin may live just one year, while the life expectancy in Mali for a diabetic is two-and-a-half years.

"In the developing countries, many people who have diabetes are not diagnosed, Silink said. “So they are not able to institute even the simplest elements of health care. They just don't know they have diabetes.”

The federation is seeking a United Nations resolution to recognize the seriousness of the problem so governments will increase their health care for diabetes, which is expected to affect 350 million people within 20 years.